As a bass saxophone player, I have long had a fascination with string bands. Therefore, the Philadelphia New Year’s Day tradition of the Mummers Parade was something that had piqued my curiosity since I first heard about it. However, the thought of marching with a bass saxophone on a cold New Year’s Day—or any day actually—for miles along a parade route, seems just a bit, well, crazy to me.
The 2010 Mummers Parade was the 110th time this event has been held. The weather cooperated this year as the sun shone down on the participants and spectators. Despite this good weather however, on January 2, Philly.com reported that the crowd had been somewhat smaller than normal.
Every year the Mummers attempt to wow the crowds and judges alike. This year again they competed in the four traditional categories:
The clownish comics, ornately costumed fancies and the show-stopping string bands [which] all marched down Broad Street before performing for judges outside City Hall. The fancy brigades [then] performed their elaborate production numbers for ticketed crowds at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The 2010 parade heralded a change for the Mummers. Apparently last year the city of Philadelphia decided that special events would have to pay their own costs. For this year the Mummers have agreed to pay the city nearly $150,000 in associated costs, such as those related to policing and sanitation.
In an effort to further reduce costs, the city also decided to no longer provide prize money for the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parade. This too was effective as of 2010.
The economy is certainly wreaking havoc on this Philadelphia tradition, and the cash crunch is hitting the Mummers hard this year. One of the top costume designers for the Mummers,
Bob Finnigan, noted that the average price of a costume will come down about $300, from $1,000 to $700. The bands are using fewer sequins, more fabric, and fewer backdrops that roll along with the performers. In some cases the bands are using smaller feathers, and less metallic fabrics. (Metallic fabrics reflect television lights better.)
Apparently it costs approximately $120,000 to get a band on the street. The costumes make up about ½ of that cost. Taking a look at these photos, it’s not hard to see how the money soon adds up in costume costs.
The Polish American String Band
Photography by: The West End Source: Flickr
Woodland String Band
Hopefully the Mummers will continue to find ways to keep their centuries old tradition alive.
The Mummers did have some celebrity assistance in December ’09 when the Bacon Brothers (Michael and Kevin), who are natives of Philadelphia, held a benefit concert. There were 5,000 DVDs pressed of the concert, and are available through SaveTheMummers.com.
If you’d like to find out more about the Mummers, and their rich history, check out their website at Mummers.com.